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Dr. John | Aug 21, 202103:46 PM     2

We were just up in the area of Bala for the past week with members of our family. Although we mainly cooked our meals, we did get to try some local places:

The best of the bunch was The Smokin Birds, a BBQ place on Muskoka Rd 38, a few minutes outside of Bala. They operate only Fri.-Sun. 12-4 and basically have a stand with picnic tables. We first stopped in for lunch on our way to the cottage. Impressed, we took out for the whole family the following Friday (large orders must be made in advance, particularly if you want the beef ribs).

Overall everything was very good, as good as the places we have sampled in Toronto. The brisket, particularly the fattier point, was moist, smoky, and nicely accented with salt and pepper. The leaner flat was understandably drier and a bit less flavourful, but still very good. The beef ribs were huge and delicious, nicely charred, smoky, and tender with the collagen broken down. Pulled pork was smoky and flavourful on its own and great when heated and mixed with the BBQ sauce. Turkey was a bit dry and not as smoky, but a decent option for those not wanting beef or pork.

The sides were generally good. Potato salad had sliced boiled egg and cucumbers mixed in. Coleslaw was the creamy variety, but not too sweet or vinegary, with the nice addition of pickled pineapple. Smoked beets were not particularly smoky, but went well with the horseradish cream. Mexican-style cream corn mixed sweet corn with crema and cotija cheese. They also had their own fresh baked egg bread, which mopped up all the drippings nicely. We never got to try their desserts or agua frescos.

Stopping into Port Carling one day, we had lunch at Tulo's Taqueria. While the food there is generally good, it is quite pricey. Cocktails are about $20 on average. Single tacos are $6-7. Of the tacos, the best was the carne asada featuring sliced steak with a tomatillo chimichurri. Sweet potato chunks combined well with black beans, avocado aioli, and cabbage slaw. Spicy chicken was quite spicy and came with an arbol sauce, cucumber yoghurt, pickled onions, and queso. And fried cauliflower was decent with green mole, pickled onions, and serrano peppers.

We took out pies from Don's Bakery in Bala. Wild blueberry and sour cherry were both not too sweet, but the fruit was a bit heavy on the cornstarch and the crusts were heavier and not flaky. A bit better was the coconut cream pie, which had a flavourful coconut pudding layer, better crust, and decent whipped cream with coconut shavings. The baguettes were also OK, at least for turning into garlic bread.

Other members of my family (who had kids' tastes to appease) took out from Bala Bay, Hook and Ladder, and Wally's, all in Bala. Based on my sampling, the poutines, fish and chips, wings, pizza, and quesadillas were all decent and somewhat indistinguishable from these places.

Alas we didn't get to make it up to Abbey's Bakehouse near Minett, which had excellent scones and other treats in years past.

Also of note, while the LCBOs are small in Bala and Port Carling, there are some surprisingly high end options including bottles of Pétrus for many $Ks. Reflecting similar tastes, the tiny Bala Freshmart had fresh mozzarella di bufala and plenty of carnaroli rice. The Port Carling Foodland had a tank of live lobsters and bunches of white asparagus.

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